Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Making the Wildlands Safer for Modern Humans

Imagine an insect repellant that not only is thousands of times more effective than DEET – the active ingredient in most commercial mosquito repellants – but also works against all types of insects, including flies, moths and ants.

That possibility has been created by the discovery of a new class of insect repellant made in the laboratory of Vanderbilt Professor of Biological Sciences and Pharmacology Laurence Zwiebel and reported this week in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. _Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt via Photo Researchers Inc 2011

Vanderbilt researchers have made some startling discoveries regarding insects' sense of smell which has led to the creation of super-powerful new insect repellants. If the discoveries prove to be as meaningful as they now appear, a trip to the wilderness or to the tropics has just gotten a lot safer and more pleasant.
In preliminary tests with mosquitoes, the researchers found the new class of repellant, called Vanderbilt University Allosteric Agonist or VUAA1, to be thousands of times more effective than DEET. The compound works by affecting insects’ sense of smell through a newly discovered molecular channel.

“If a compound like VUAA1 can activate every mosquito odorant receptor at once, then it could overwhelm the insect’s sense of smell, creating a repellant effect akin to stepping onto an elevator with someone wearing too much perfume, except this would be far worse for the mosquito,” said Patrick Jones, a post-doctoral fellow who conducted the study with graduate students David Rinker and Gregory Pask.

The researchers have just begun behavioral studies with the compound.

“It’s too soon to determine whether this specific compound can act as the basis of a commercial product,” Zwiebel cautioned. “But it is the first of its kind and, as such, can be used to develop other similar compounds that have characteristics appropriate for commercialization.” _Vanderbilt
This is a very basic type of discovery, which perhaps should have been made decades ago. But the fact is, out of the legions of researchers in labs around the world, only a relative few of them have the necessary cognitive and creative complement to make original discoveries -- and have the confidence to persist long enough to prove them to the sceptical outside world.

But imagine a trip up the Amazon, the Mekong, or the Congo without mosquitos or flies nipping at your head and body wherever you turn, night or day, at the risk of malaria, dengue, yellow fever, encephalitis and worse? Imagine a campout in a boreal forest during the summertime, without the black flies and the mosquitos, which rapidly drink your blood until you are only a shriveled husk of your former self?

Or just imagine a normal weekend outdoor cookout without the buzzing and biting pests of summer. How would your world change?

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